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ARCHIVED - Canada: A Literary Tour

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Literary Cities


The Poet's Corner
by Marcel Barriault, Library and Archives Canada

In 1783, Loyalist refugees began to arrive in Nova Scotia, building one of their settlements along the Saint John River, upon the ruins of the former Acadian village of Ste-Anne-des-Pays-Bas. They named it Frederick's Town, in honour of Prince Frederick, son of King George III and uncle of Queen Victoria. The following year, the colony of New Brunswick was carved out of Nova Scotia, and Frederick's Town, shortened to Fredericton, became its capital.

One of the most pivotal events in the literary history of Fredericton came in 1785, when the city's forebears founded the University of New Brunswick (UNB), the earliest English-language university in Canada. Among the first governors of the university was the Loyalist satirist-poet and essayist, Jonathan Odell.

From its inception, UNB fostered literature in Fredericton, and many of its students, alumni and professors became celebrated poets. In fact, two of the four "Confederation Poets"-Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, dubbed the "father of Canadian poetry," and his cousin, Bliss Carman, known as the "Bard of Tantramar"-were educated at UNB. Having become a professor himself at the university, Carman taught a new generation of poets, including Francis Joseph Sherman. Very early on, the works of Roberts, Carman and Sherman earned Fredericton the status of "The Poet's Corner."

In 1945, UNB launched The Fiddlehead, now Canada's longest-running literary periodical. Many who have sat on the editorial committee over the years have been well-established and recognized poets in their own right: Alfred Bailey, Elizabeth Brewster, Fred Cogswell and Robert Gibbs. Don McKay, who edited the journal from 1991 to 1996, won the Governor General's Award for poetry twice, for Night Field (1991) and for Another Gravity (2000).

Although it is based in Fredericton and has published the works of local writers such as Alden Nowlan and Alistair MacLeod, The Fiddlehead has also featured the early work of literary giants from across the country, such as Al Purdy, Jay Macpherson, and Dorothy Livesay. Fredericton may well be "The Poet's Corner," but it has been instrumental in discovering other poets living in other corners of Canada's literary landscape.